I am inexorably drawn to stories about people who make smart decisions, especially athletes who view sports as a path to a better life.

Since it’s Super Bowl week, I couldn’t think of a better opportunity to profile Eugene Profit, 47, who used his speed and smarts to get off the Los Angeles streets, earn an Ivy League degree and play pro football, and then launched a successful money-management firm that earns him a far bigger paycheck than the ones he got from the New England Patriots and Washington Redskins.

Profit (yes, that’s his family name) runs Profit Investment Management, a boutique investment firm with a $1.8 billion portfolio and clients that include big corporate and public pension funds, foundations, and wealthy individuals.

Located near the Silver Spring Metro station, Profit Investment has 15 employees and grosses between $5 million and $10 million a year. Profit does most of the stock picking himself, and pays himself handsomely for it. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest he earns more than $1 million a year; he didn’t dispute that number when I asked him.

His employees do well, too. His five financial analysts earn $175,000 to $300,000 a year.

Redskins cornerback Eugene Profit is now patrolling the financial field and picking off some winners. (Jim Johnson)

What I like about Profit is that he was willing to stretch beyond his surroundings, putting himself in uncomfortable situations in pursuit of success.

He didn’t know his father. His mother, now retired in Florida, was a surgical technician who took him out of the Los Angeles public schools and sent him to Junipero Serra High School, a Catholic school in Gardena, Calif., a Los Angeles suburb.

“Mom always stressed education as a way to do better,” said Profit, who grew up near one of the worst blocks in south-central Los Angeles, not far from the Los Angeles Forum, built by the late Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke.

He played football and basketball and ran track at Serra High; he was smart enough that Yale, Harvard and Stanford came calling.

He picked Yale after a visit that included a meeting with Calvin Hill, who had starred on the Yale track and football teams and later played for the Dallas Cowboys (not everyone makes smart decisions) and the Redskins.

“It took me a year to acclimate,” said Profit, who still holds Yale’s long-jump record. “It was a different culture. ”

He majored in economics because “it was the closest thing I could see to real world jobs . . . something tangible,” Profit said.

He was a graduating senior in 1986 but was passed over in the NFL draft. But at 2 a.m. the next day, the New England Patriots phoned his dorm and asked him to try out for the team.

He signed as a free agent for a $60,000 salary; his signing bonus was $4,500.

Profit, who played cornerback and on special teams, doesn’t regret pursuing an NFL career while his classmates headed toward big financial players such as Bain Capital, Morgan Stanley and Salomon Brothers.

“There’s a lot of panache affiliated with the league. I enjoyed it. I also knew that there was going to be life beyond football,” he said.

Profit rented an apartment in Walpole, Mass., bought a big television set and started working out with the team and watching game films. When he was bored, he read the federal tax code.

He played in the NFL for four years. His salary peaked at $200,000 in 1990, a fraction of the current median NFL salary of around $770,000.

He retired from football in 1990 after being waived by the Redskins following rehabilitation for a hamstring injury. He thought about becoming a sports agent but wanted something more predictable — such as finance.

Profit began cold-calling local financial firms and landed a stockbroker job at Baltimore-based Legg Mason in 1994. Two years later, he and his wife, Michelle Profit, a fellow Yale graduate, formed Profit Investment Management with $100,000 in savings. They leased 400 square feet of office space above the bus station at the corner of Wisconsin and Western avenues, on the D.C.-Maryland border.

It was far less glamorous than professional football. He started with a secretary and an intern and didn’t draw a paycheck for three years, living instead on savings and his wife’s salary as a lawyer.

To draw customers, Profit hosted seminars in the office and small lunches.

He also recruited customers by visiting doctors whereever he could find them — in hospitals, their offices, even in their homes — asking to manage their money. The money dribbled in. Someone would give him $25,000. Another would give him $50,000.

Having a knack for self-promotion, he issued a news release on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, congratulating Wall Street on celebrating the holiday. He received national coverage.

A big turning point came in March 2000, when the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association gave him $10 million to invest after reading about him in BusinessWeek magazine. Profit paid himself his first salary: $30,000.

Another big score came in 2004 when the San Francisco Employees Retirement System gave Profit $40 million to manage. (That pension fund now gives him $110 million to manage.)

He also has taken some hits. The Illinois State Board of Investment last year withdrew $140 million.

Profit’s record of returns between Oct. 1, 1997, and Dec. 31, 2011, is 7.28 percent annually, net of fees. (He and his staff also benefit from investing in the same funds they recommend to clients.)

He currently likes large, U.S.-based companies in the health-care and technology fields.

“Demographics suggest health-care demand will continue to increase while investors focus on short-term confusion over short term political policies,” he said. As for technology, “cloud computing platforms need hard-drive storage and network infrastructure; most [investors] don’t like old boring yesterday’s technology like Intel and Microsoft. We do.”

And who will win Super Bowl XLVI? The Patriots or New York Giants?

“Pats by a touchdown. Giants’ front four on the defensive line will be a big factor, but [Patriots quarterback Tom Brady] is having an MVP-type season. I suspect the Patriots will find a way to slow down the Giants newfound passing success.”

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